Digitising louse slides

We have digitised the Museum’s slide mounted parasitic louse (Phthiraptera) collection, which is one of the largest and most taxonomically comprehensive in the world.

Following on from the slide digitisation pilot, we have refined our slide digitisation workflow and increased its efficiency through development of automated processes. 

Why lice?​

The louse collection consists of an estimated 70,667 microscope slides. Lice are permanent ectoparasites of mammals and birds and are highly host specific, with the majority of the ~5,000 louse species being unique to a particular host species.

As their evolutionary history is closely related to that of their hosts, parasitic lice are frequently used as a model to study co-evolutionary processes.

Co-evolution is the process that occurs when two species influence each other during evolution.

By digitising the louse collection and publishing the data on the Museum's Data Portal we will provide a new global resource for scientific research. It will be the most comprehensive source of Phthiraptera specimen data ever release in the public domain. 

Aims of the Project:

· Barcode and image the entire slide mounted louse collection

· Trial new workflows for low and high resolution slide imaging and compare with  previous workflows and equipment (SatScan and Axio Scan)

· Trial and evaluate different forms of transcription

· Public release of content via the Data Portal and social media


The pilot project is split into 2 main workflows:

High throughput

For each specimen we imaged the whole slide capturing both the specimen and its associated labels. A unique identifier (barcode) was attached to each slide. Using a static digital SLR camera and lightbox, the slides are individually imaged by placing them in a template with a label stating the species name and the slide’s location in the collection.

High resolution

We used a static digital SLR camera with a 5x zoom lens to capture high resolution images of a subset of specimens, and comparing this setup with our previous high resolution workflow using Axio Scan. This will give us high resolution images of type specimens and provides learning for future slide digitisation projects.

A type specimen (or in some cases a group of specimens) is a specimen on which the formal scientific description and name of a new species is based.

For up to date news on the Museum’s slide digitisation please follow the Digital Collections Programme’s twitter and the Museum’s blog.

Project summary

  • Focus: Digitisation of the Phthiraptera (louse) collection, improvement in the imaging workflows, and trialling new methods of transcription.
  • Funding: Natural History Museum/ SYNTHESYS3
  • Start date: January 2017
  • End date: Autumn 2017

Project team


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Digitising slide collections

A project to create workflows and data pipelines for high-throughput, digitisation of the museum’s diverse slide collections.


Digital Museum

We are digitising 80 million specimens from our collections to an online data portal.

Digital collections programme

Establishing high-throughput digital capture workflows for collection types.


The Museum's 80 million specimens form the world’s most important natural history collection.